His Nickname is 'Connie'

And that is but one of the revelations unearthed by this interviewer in her visit to Conrad Veidt, one of the screen's most sinister personalities.
By Myrtle Gebhart
Unknown magazine, 1928/9(?)

A sinister shadow - hands - a distroted, ugly face - scheming eyes, half wild - a bent, misshapen form - Doctor Caligari, creeping toward me, along crazy, three sided rooms - Cesare Borgia, smiling treacherously - black streaks through shafts of light - a grimacing, twisting mout---

This vague and terrifying half-picture of Conrad Veidt was in my mind - snatches of his monstrous characters, men a little demented. His forte was that of cruelty. A beastly man, surely. A German. He would be built like an apartment house, layer upon layer held by thick muscles. He would glower and talk of impulses, complexes, and all those somber channels of the mind in Freudian analysis. I shuddered, and wondered a bit about the brain of a man known only to us by such weird characterizations. I was half prejudiced against him, not as an actor, but as a human being.

To supplement his broken English, Paul Kohner, Universal executive, had agreed to lunch with us.''

''His nickname is 'Connie,' '' Paul lazily informed me.

Scarcely had I recovered from that, when the car stopped before the one old-fashioned house left in Beverly Hills, a rambling, comfortable home, by no means pretentious. A tall, well-built man ran down the steps to meet us. One of those soldierly, foreign bows. A big, brown hand held mine. I looked up into a long, strong, tanned face, its darkeness lit by electric-blue eyes.

Finally I snapped out of it and asked how, why and wherefore.

''I play such characterizations, because zey haff drama,'' he said. ''I must haff ze dramatic, ze ecstatic - something wiss great mental force. Good men not haff happen to zem soze unusual sings which make drama. But nein, I am not all bad. Zere iss a reason, each time, why I am bad. I haff sympathy form my audience. As in The Man Who Laughs, I am cruel to all but blind, leetle girl. People are sorry for me, because I haff been marked wiss scarred face. It is great role. I act it with my eyes, so.''

In a two-minute eye duet he gave me the substance of the play. I saw pathos, hurt pride vented in cruelty, remorse, and sacrifice, flash one after the other.

''Such characters haff drama, because zere iss always tragedy somewhere. Zey are bad, because somebody has made zem bad. Life has twisted zem. To find out why, and to show it why, as you play zat character doing evil, zat iss drama.

I found Veidt a most interesting man, for numerous reasons. While I did not expect to see quite the grotesque figure of his screen self, giving due credit to make-up, I did imagine there would be about him something that suggested brutality. There wasn't. Indeed, there was nothing of those dark shadows, save the power and vitality that make them so curiously, yet horribly, alive.

His lightness of movement, and his grace, are surprising in a man so large. His voice, rumbling into the reverbrations of a drum, suddenly softens to the delicacy of a whisper. Big brown hands are everywhre in wide, sweeping gestures, panoramic in the circumference of their expression. When English failed, as often it did, and before Paul could supply the interpretation of his gutteral German, his tense eyes, or q quick pose, would tell me his meaning.

His eyes are of that blue which, with concentration, become almost slate gray. His power lies in them. He is thirty-five, at once mature in experience and vigorously youthful.

Mrs. Veidt, also German, was not in. Their little girl was asleep. The three of us dawdled over luncheon in the old-fashioned dining room, with its big windows and its mahogany woodwork, and talked of many things. Caligari worried that I was eating so little! Henry IV trotted back and forth to the study, to bring me snapshots of a darlig three-year-old baby. It was some time before I could readjust myself, and shake the screen Veidt out of my mind.

Though he has made but two pictures here (actually three. Beloved Rogue, A Man's Past, and The Man Who Laughs Web editor) , he has already created a stir. His fame, based on his eleven years of stardom in German pictures, had preceded him. He is regarded with such respect that his opinion is actually adhered to! He has been, and according to promise probably will continue to be, less restricted that other imported actors.

Usually a foereigner is selected not only for his skill, but because of some individual quality - his difference from our own players. One might call it hte keynote of his success abroad - the thing that flashes to mind when his name is mentioned. Yet, in an erroneous effort to make him comply wiht American standards, that very quality which the company bought is quenched.

More astonishing still is the fact that Universal, a company concerned with getting out pictures quickly, to fulfill public demand, should be so considerate of a foreigner's point of view. Veidt's two films, A Man's Past and The Man Who Laughs have offered him the type of characterizations with which he is most familiar.

''Nein, I haff no trouble.'' he said. ''Zey giff me stories I want. Paul Leni directs me in my second picture. He directs me abroad. Would zey not giff me my way, I would not act.''

A curious thing about him is that he has made less effort to Americanize himself than have most other foreigners. He is intensely enthusiastic about some American things, and is doing his best to learn English. It is simply that he is so completely European. He seldom appears in Hollywood social life, but is present at the teas and dinners of the foreign colony, the Germans and Hungarians.

''I am nineteen. My fadder iss high honor-official of government. Nobody haff nozzing to do wiss t'eater. Zey don't like. Me, I am crazy to act. I go to t'eater in top seat, like you haff gallery. One day gateman says, 'You vant to be actor? Ach, I make it fix.' He takes me to man who giffs lessons. Zis man tells me to do something. I do Faust.''

Wide mouth split in a grin, his eyes waited with brimming joy for me to get the humor of that.. ''Beeg bow tie, hair like zis,'' he mussed it, swept out his hands in a dramatic pose. ''Great dramatic actor, artistic! Beeg, booming Faust. He says to teach me for six marks lessons - one dollar and half. I haff no money, but I get frm my mudder, from friends. I take ten lessons. Zen I am sad.'' His huge frame crumpled, his long, lean face took on the woe of thwarted youth, while his eyes were bright with mockery. ''Vait! He likes me. He teach me for nozzing.''

One day he says Max Reinhardt takes ten to train. It iss a school, but you do not pay. Ach could I? It vas a dream. I go to Reinhardt. He is short, fat, man, much dignity. Vat do I act? Faust, surely! I talk like a gun. He pays no listen. I act on. He looks at me. I feel one inch beeg. He says in voice so low, so sweet, so slow, 'Now ve vill haff somesing else.'' For long time I act. Zen he says, 'I sank you. Go now.' Next day my teacher tells me I am to act wiss Reinhardt, and for pay! In marks, ten dollars a month!

Vait! Guess vat I do? I haff me printed white cards in gold letters to say, 'Conrad Veidt, Max Reinhardt Theater'. All first ten dollars for my gold cards!

For two years I am like you say extra. Zen I am in war. Zere too I am extra! Back t Reinhardt for two years more. One day I sink he forget me. I wonder how can I make him know me some more. I copy like our star says his lines, and Reinhardt says, 'So!' He remembers, and giffs me a leetle bit, but it iss one of soze ectastic sings.'' Every muscle rippled feelingly, seemingly, to ber crushed by his clenched fist. ''It attracts attention. Zen my name really means somesing - and I stop singking I am so fine actor.''

Reinhardt, naturally, is one of his enthusiasms. ''He iss great. He haff soul, heart, chenius!'' Veidt beat an exclamatory hand against his chest.

There followed eleven years of screen stardom for Ufa and other companies.

Barrymore sent for him to play in The Beloved Rogue. While here he met Paul Kohner, who persuaded Universal to sign him, after he had gone back to Germany and returned again to the country.

Whether or not his peculiar, tense performances will beome popular here, remains to be seen. Certainly he has a compelling personality, and were he ever forced to play what we term straight leads, he would give to them a new vigor. As long as they permit him to do the things he loves, we shall have those strange, forceful characters to relieve the monotony of our own more-or-less-stereotyped, pretty pictures.


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